One of the more interesting book titles I’ve run across recently is “Stop Dating the Church!: Fall in Love With the Family of God”, written by Joshua Harris. Harris has been a pastor for 26 years and has noticed an increasing tendency he calls “dating the church.”
Here’s how it works. He begins with a story about a young man who starts dating a young woman named Grace. They really like each other — maybe even love each other — and things go along smoothly. They enjoy each other and see each other frequently. Eventually, Grace would like to make their relationship permanent in marriage, but the young man isn’t so sure.
“Why?” he asks, when she presses the subject. “Isn’t everything perfect now? We are together. What more do we need?”
But, not surprisingly, that is not enough for Grace.
It turns out that Grace is not a young woman after all; she’s a church. And the young man is one of a growing population of people who “date” the church, but never commit to it. Much has been written these days about “consumerism” and the church — the increasing number of people who come to church asking, “What can you do for me?” or “How can you meet my needs?” As one blogger put it, “Too many people believe that the church exists for its members rather than for mission.”
And so they settle into a “dating” relationship with the church. They “see” the church on Sunday, then do their own thing the rest of the week.
One researcher describes this consumerist mentality when he comments: “For most of the generations born before 1950, church is a place where you serve, sacrifice and give. For most of the generations born after 1950, the question is not ‘What can I do to serve the church?’ but ‘What has the church done for me lately?’”
The result of this trend is that churches compete for members. Worship becomes entertainment. Preaching becomes limited to telling people what they want to hear, at the expense of what we need to hear.
Much has been written these days about this being a “postmodern era.” Others call it “post-Christian” or “post-Enlightenment.” The implication is that everything has changed. Maybe I’m getting old (I’m one of those born before 1950), but I’m beginning to suspect that less has changed about us than we think.
Gather enough years, and you begin to see the “pendulum effect” at work. What comes around goes around. I’m just crotchety enough to say that what we need is a new “post-consumerist” era in which we rediscover the power of commitment — not for what the church can do for us, but for what we can do for and through the church.
In the meantime, let the churches concentrate less on entertainment and more on integrity, honesty and compassion. I continue to believe that what the world needs from churches, temples and synagogues is a place to forget ourselves in powerful acts of love for others.
The bottom line is that your life is bigger than a good job, an understanding spouse and non-delinquent kids. It is bigger than beautiful gardens, nice vacations and fashionable clothes.
In reality, you are meant to be part of something immense, something that began before you were born and will continue after you die. God is doing wonderful things in this world — and he wants you to be a part of it.
“For most of the generations born after 1950, the question is not ‘What can I do to serve the church?’ but ‘What has the church done for me lately?’”
Blair Monie is senior pastor of the Preston Hollow Presbyterian Church. The Worship section is a regular feature underwritten by Advocate Publishing and by the neighborhood business people and churches listed on these pages. For information about helping support the Worship section, call 214.560.4202 or e-mail here.
Click to sign up for the Advocate's weekly news digest and be the first to know what’s happening in Preston Hollow.